Sometimes the hardest step is the first one. With a heavy heart I decided to head back to the trail. The sun rises, the sun sets, life goes on.
For my first hike back I decided to return to one of my favorite trails, Mount Diablo’s Eagle Peak. I have already climbed the peak three times this year and the quiet of the trail was calling to me. Whenever I feel troubled or at a crisis the trail has been there to calm my mind. I would find my solace for my loss on the simple rugged slopes of the mountain.
To make things a little different I would start up Eagle Peak Trail from Coulter Pine Trail, this would give me a long slow ascent up the steep and rocky side of the peak. I wasn’t looking for a dash up the hill, just a time to clear my mind and reflect.
The weather was warm starting out Saturday morning and I began the long slow climb. Years ago on my first attempt at the peak with a friend we got lost on the way up somehow and out little hike turned into an arduous march in the summer heat. With a few solo climbs of Eagle Peak under my belt I had no worries about direction. I packed my first dslr, an old Canon Digital Rebel stripped down to one lens and began my way up.
It was a funny thing about this hike. Over the years I have done Eagle Peak and the surrounding Mitchell Canyon trails many times. I know I have made the hike along Mitchell Canyon Road at least a dozen or so times by on this day things seemed unfamiliar. I didn’t recognize some of the landmarks and sections of the trail I have crossed over time and again. I had the strange sensation that I was visiting a friend’s house where all the furniture had been rearranged, I had been there before but everything looked different.
I journeyed up the trail at a slow pace, stopping frequently for pictures on the narrow trail slick with gravel. After about two hours I reached the top of the peak and gazed out across the canyon. A haze clung low to some of the hills but a deep blue still greeted my above the mountain. After a short rest break I head down to Meridian Ridge Road and had my next odd feeling. The trail, which I had taken twice before since March, climbs steeply toward the fire road. I honestly don’t recall the hill before even though I have been on the trail, it just looked new and different. There it was again that feeling of not recognizing things, like I was seeing much of them for the first time.
The way back to the staging area would take me to Deer Flat and the Mitchell Canyon Road trail that descends back down through a series of switchbacks. The twists and turns can be grueling on the way up and I have sweated through them many times. heading down I usually have to be careful about the loose gravel that can make for treacherous footing. The trail has about seven of these switchbacks and there lies another oddity, except for the first set of turns I really don’t remember hiking them. One moment I’m at the start the next I’m crossing the tree-lined start of the flat portion of the trail that leads to the parking lot. I was rested, hydrated and feeling fine but I’m at a loss to why I can’t remember passing through the switchbacks.
Finishing up the hike I always look for landmarks to give me my distance to the staging area parking lot gate. Park benches set at a mile and then at a half from the finish mile chart my course to the finish. Usually when I am tired and beat after a long hike the benches seem to taunt me that I still have a distance to rest. On this hike even though I was looking for it I slipped past the markers and was surprised to see the finish ahead when I thought I was still far from home. I was never lost or disoriented on the trail far from it, I kew where I was but things just seemed different.
I have thought a lot about this hike. I took two weeks to be with my father and grieve my mom’s passing. The day before she died I sat with her and told her when she had passed maybe one day she would be able to walk beside me on the trail. See the things I do, feel the sunshine and watch over me on the trail.
I don’t know why I felt the way I did or why things happen. Was I seeing the hike through eyes that were new to the trail, was someone watching over me and making the hard parts pass away in the beat of a heart longing for one more moment together. I don’t know. Part of me likes to think that God granted my mom a visit with me on the trail to take that walk in the sunshine with me. Maybe my solace is not a quiet walk on the mountain alone but a moment together with the memory of a loved one. I’m not sure if I’ll ever know if I walked up and down the mountain alone but I know I carry the memory of my mom on every hike, every day, in everything I do.
The sadness will still be there, I’m not sure if it ever really leaves but just like the mountain I will carry on.